Kristen Stewart’s directing ambitions go all the way back to when she was an 11-year-old performing in the 2002 David Fincher thriller Panic Room.
“I was working with Jodie Foster and I was like, ‘I’m going to direct. I’m going to be the youngest director that exists’,” Stewart recalled in an interview. When she, years later, told Foster she was finally making something, Stewart says, “She was like, ‘Dude, the first thing you’re going to realise is that you have nothing to learn’.”
It took longer than Stewart expected, but she has now made a short film titled Come Swim. Following premieres at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, Come Swim debuted on Friday on the women’s entertainment and lifestyles website Refinery29.
The film announces Stewart’s filmmaking ambitions and opens a new chapter in the fast-moving career of the 27-year-old actress. Stewart is already developing several other projects, including a script she’s writing that’s an adaptation of a memoir (Stewart declined to say whose). She’s taking two months off acting to write it, and she also hopes to turn Come Swim into a feature-length film.
“It’s my first step into something I’ve wanted to [do] for a really long time,” said Stewart.
Stewart spoke in a pair of interviews — one on a balcony in Cannes in May, the other by phone on Thursday. As to the recent sexual harassment scandals that have swamped Hollywood, Stewart pointed to her speech last month at Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, where she spoke about the less-noticed harassment of below-the-line crew members. Stewart declined to add to those comments on Thursday but acknowledged the industry’s gender imbalances behind the camera have been on her mind.
“I’m so fortunate to be able to have made this movie because it’s obviously tougher for women to be heard,” said Stewart. “I’m obviously deeply proud of anyone who’s able to express themselves freely and it’s awesome that we’re living in a time where they can.”
Come Swim”isn’t your standard actor-made directorial debut. It’s an 18-minute metaphorical rendering of a feeling, of the overwhelming oppression of heartbreak and grief. A man is submerged, literally, by water everywhere. Stewart describes the film as about “aggrandised pain” and says its imagery has haunted her for four years.
“You don’t realise when you’re trudging through that water, you feel so alone,” says Stewart. “We’ve all been there. But when you’re in it, you feel like you can’t participate in life.”
In many ways, Come Swim reflects something essential about Stewart: she is hyper alert to her surroundings and her emotions. It’s a quality that has probably helped make her, in the eyes of many, a performer of twitchy, alive sensitivity.
“I am so sensitive it drives me crazy,” says Stewart. “It’s funny [that] the first movie I wanted to make was basically just a movie about somebody who is like, ‘You don’t get it! It’s horrible!’”
Getting behind the camera was also a way for Stewart to be the kind of director she herself appreciates — one who favours discovery over heavily-scripted control.
“The worst is when directing becomes correcting,” she says. “It’s like: ‘Do it all yourself then. Why are you even making movies?’ I don’t want packaged and delivered ideas.”
Come Swim, abstract and impressionistic, is certainly not that. For an actress who remains a considerable box office draw, her film is little concerned with matching audience expectations.
Right now, she’s trying to carve out more time for directing — a challenge for a performer drawn to jumping from project to project. Making Come Swim, she says, is the most fun she’s had on a set.
“I was making movies before I was watching [a lot] of movies,” she says. “So I knew how significant it was to protect something precious really young. I saw people doing it and it seemed like this honour-bound commitment that everyone shared and there was one person spearheading it. When a movie’s really good, there’s a singular, very particular perspective that everyone is servicing, and I always just wanted to hold that.”